Occasionally I encounter an author new to me whose work leaves the lingering taste of an enigma. Who boosts my flagging enthusiasm for literature. Such authors come more and more rarely. Blaise Cendrars is the most recent one.
I actually bought his novel Moravagine ten years ago and added it to my improbably long list of books to be read, but I only managed to get round to tackling it in May 2008. At first I thought it was going to be another French surrealist black fantasy, like Lautréamont’s Maldoror or Mirbeau’s The Torture Garden or Bataille’s Story of the Eye, and partly this is true: it’s an episodic account of a madman called Moravagine (his name is an indication of his misogynistic purpose in life) released from an insane asylum by the doctor who is treating him, as part of a bizarre and unorthodox experiment. The amoral pair travel around the world getting into various scrapes.
But Cendrars rapidly loses interest in the ‘black’ side of his creation and something trickier and more ambiguous emerges. The novel becomes a catalogue of strangeness rather than one of horrors. It’s the picaresque strangeness of Cendrars’s vision convincingly carried by his feverish prose that I like so much. To the End of the World is more realistic and amusing than Moravagine and I’m looking forward to the Dan Yack novels, which promise to be a delerious mix of Jules Verne and André Breton.